PRESCOTT, Ariz. (AP) — The last words Ruth Kennedy heard from her daughter were "oh no!"
It was during that call, prosecutors say, that Carol Kennedy's ex-husband, Steven DeMocker, emerged from hiding and bludgeoned the 53-year-old woman to death with a golf club.
Prosecutors argued that DeMocker, who once earned $500,000 a year as a financial adviser but was in deep debt, wanted to cash in on Kennedy's $750,000 life insurance policy and avoid $6,000 in monthly alimony payments after the couple divorced.
More than five years after the July 2008 killing, the case is drawing closer to an end. Jurors found DeMocker guilty of first-degree murder and six other charges in October, and a judge this week denied a motion for a new trial.
Prosecutors hope to send the 60-year-old DeMocker to prison for life without a chance for release, even as he maintains his innocence.
"Make no mistake, this was a beating murder committed by an enraged, hateful defendant," they wrote in a sentencing memorandum.
DeMocker's attorneys unsuccessfully argued Wednesday that the evidence wasn't sufficient to convict him. A Jan. 24 court date allows them to argue for leniency in sentencing.
Prosecutors relied heavily on circumstantial evidence to land a conviction. The supposed murder weapon — a 7-wood club — never was found, and authorities didn't have witnesses or DNA to tie DeMocker to the scene.
Prosecutors told jurors that DeMocker knew Kennedy's routine of running in the woods behind her home, plotted the murder, staged her home to make it look accidental and filed for the insurance payout.
He was out of cellphone contact for hours after Kennedy's death, which prosecutors said was uncharacteristic, and stashed money and clothing on a golf course near his home.
Prosecutors told jurors that shoe prints found near Kennedy's home matched footwear that DeMocker owned and that bicycle tracks were of the same tread as a bicycle that DeMocker rode to Kennedy's home.
Authorities arrived at Kennedy's home to find her lying in a pool of blood, her skull shattered. Experts testified during trial that the breaks were similar in shape to a golf club. DeMocker had a golf club cover in his home that authorities saw, but it then disappeared. DeMocker later turned it over to his attorneys. Prosecutors say that tied him to the murder weapon.
Despite a painstaking search for blood and other evidence in DeMocker's car, washing machine, drains, and at his home and office, authorities came up empty-handed, said defense attorney Craig Williams.
"The reason they didn't find anything is because he didn't do it," Williams said.
There's been no shortage of bizarre details in the case: The medical examiner transported Kennedy's body in the bed of his pickup truck for a forensic anthropologist examination. The original judge collapsed in his chambers and later died from a brain tumor. DeMocker bought books on how to evade authorities, and the case has been filled with conflicting evidence and allegations of extramarital affairs.
Ruth Kennedy, of Nashville, had no idea what happened to her daughter 1,600 miles away in Prescott when the call abruptly ended that July afternoon. Kennedy's family reached out to DeMocker to check on Carol Kennedy, but they couldn't immediately reach him by phone. Ruth Kennedy eventually called police, who found her daughter with her skull shattered by at least seven blows to the head.
DeMocker's attorneys claim the killing could have been committed by a man who lived with Kennedy at the time but who wasn't properly investigated. Investigators dismissed him as a suspect after his alibi of taking care of his son checked out.
DeMocker told authorities that he loved Kennedy and despite bickering over finances, they had a friendly chat over coffee a few days earlier and talked about reconciling.
For DeMocker's oldest daughter, Katie, the trial created the difficult situation of seeking justice for her mother's death and her father fighting for his freedom, the 25-year-old wrote in a letter to the judge in September.
In 2009, DeMocker arranged to have his youngest daughter Charlotte, 22, send an anonymous email from a cafe claiming that gang members killed Kennedy, according to trial testimony. He also floated a story about a "voice in the (air) vent" at the Camp Verde jail that told him Kennedy was "killed by two guys from Phoenix."
DeMocker was arrested while working at UBS Financial Services in October 2008. He was denied Kennedy's life insurance payment because he was a suspect in her murder. The money instead went to his daughters, with most of it used to pay attorneys in his first trial. That trial ended abruptly when DeMocker's defense team quit, citing a conflict of interest.
Williams said DeMocker was on a bicycle ride when Kennedy was killed. He said DeMocker made no attempt to hide scratches he got while out in the woods when he showed up at his ex-wife's house to console his daughter.
Kennedy was a spiritual person who loved her flower garden and whose art career was ready to take off, said her brother, John Kennedy. He wants DeMocker in prison for the rest of his life.
"We want to close the door on this thing," he said. "I don't want to think about him anymore. Once he's sentenced and the big iron door closes behind, I won't."